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(May 2007, Catherine Lucas)

An Analytical Perspective on the Cultural Phenomenon of Internet Blogging Through an Understanding of Haraway’s Theory of the Cyborg.

 

In her “Manifesto for Cyborgs,” Haraway outlines a definition of a cyborg as a “cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction.”§ (Haraway; 1991) Where the concept of blogging is concerned, writing one’s thoughts, opinions and desires into the anonymity of the Internet could be categorized as a progression of ourselves becoming cyborgs, particularly in the social sense. For bloggers, sharing one’s ideas across the Internet has become even more of a second nature than holding a face to face discussion of their beliefs and judgements. In this manner, technology becomes an extension of the human brain and its faculties. One may now even enter an actual virtual universe to interact on this level.

Haraway theorises that we are all now “chimeras theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism,” where our natural movements flow easily into that of the machine without us giving much realisation to the action, and so in short, “we are cyborgs.” (Haraway; 1991) Blogging is a cultural phenomenon that is centred on this idea of an extension of the brain, imagination and our human expression; rather than discussing or debating our ideas and fantasies, we now record them on a universally accessible database of information.

While this phenomenon is certainly relevant to the exploration of the cyborg, it may also be linked to Arendt’s theories of alienation, as blogging, while a useful tool for purveying information, is also a solitary technique of interaction if one considers only ‘physical reality’ as the real sense of a reality, and ‘virtual reality’ as one which can only be accessed on a solitary level, where one is not communicating physically, and relies on an imagined state to convey one’s own thoughts and ideals. Therefore, although blogging is for many seen as a social activity, this social interaction may be viewed as merely superficial, and as a shield that distracts us from our own ‘real life’ alienation, by inhabiting a fictional reality to console ourselves of our own sense of loneliness. By using blogging as a defence mechanism in this manner, one is effectively succumbing to the idea of a growing epidemic of human-roboticism.

Haraway examines the rise of roboticism throughout her manifesto, unfolding the idea of “boundary breakdowns” between human and machine, which are expanded on by Schaer in her article on a “Life Less Ordinary” (Schaer; 2007) as she explores the entire ‘online world’ of Second Life. These boundary breakdowns have been met with abject criticism from many theorists and journalists who see the exploration of the virtual as a rejection of natural reality, and as a psychological retreat into an anonymous and fictional existence where one can be ‘safe’ from the outside world and also shun ‘true’ human interaction, which is described by Middleton as an “amputation” or betrayal of our cultural heritage, stemming from the rise of the blog (Middleton; Australia –undated). As Schaer puts it: “Don’t these people have real lives? Why make a whole bunch of fantasy friends…when you could be outside in the real sunshine…?” (Schaer; 2007)

This rise of roboticism is for many seen as dangerous, as the concept of blogging emerges as a new media type; Johnson and Kaye’s study of blog users’ reliance on blogs for information on politics, for example, shows an embracing of robotically conveyed media. If cyborgs are designed to exist through futuristic or technological advances, bloggers can record their opinions for access by Internet users for generations to come, however due to inevitable Internet ‘skewing’ (explored by Drezner and Farrell; 2004) the same opinions would retain their popularity and readership by internet users and so could create a biased image of the world detailed and discussed within them. Cyborgs are seen as having lost some human characteristics such as ‘feeling’ due to being a ‘technologically altered’ human hybrid, (Haraway; 1991) in which case bloggers who use blogging as a facility for an extension of human interaction could theoretically turn more cynical, more ‘robotic’ in their world outlook, and more passive to the real world as it happens around them, only viewing it through an analytical brain. Haraway offers a chilling perception of this, in that “our machines are disturbingly lively, and we ourselves frighteningly inert.” (1991)

However, O’Donnell constructs theories on how “the blogosphere might challenge or enhance current theories of teaching,” (O’Donnell; 2005) as a more positive side to this argument. If, as Haraway suggests, we are all cyborgs, our communicative ideas using online technology may only become more technologically advanced, an idea already explored by Schaer as she interviews Angela Thomas, a lecturer at The University of Sydney, who uses the virtual world ‘Second Life’¨ to teach classes and hold meetings within a ‘virtual reality’. Thomas states, “I don’t like to distinguish what I do in Second Life as unreal because, for me, it’s very real to be paid to teach my classes there.”(Schaer; 2007)

Whilst one argument may suggest that understanding a virtual reality such as Second Life as ‘very real’ is proof of the possible dangerous nature of integrating oneself too far into a cyber world of blogging and other technological methods of communication, others could argue that such advances can only help broaden our intellectual horizons, with the vast, infinite possibilities of the Internet “seen as a place to give and share information,” by Thomas (Schaer; 2007). From this viewpoint, discourses expanded through online blogs could improve access to education and interaction with the rest of the world, to those in underprivileged countries, or those who find themselves housebound or with social interaction difficulties.

It would be naïve to simply dismiss the growth of the cyborg in our society as dangerous and objectionable, when it could bring relief to many others. When an anonymous blogger in his own home can make his political voice heard without the requirement of ‘traditional’ and ‘human’ methods of physical demonstration and revolt, but through a concise documentation of ideas and opinions, surely such an extension of one’s thought processes can only enrich a world of opinions by providing bloggers with the tools to voice these hopes. However, Dr Adriane Vromen (University of Sydney) poses a very important question of “whether it [virtual environments and the internet in general] can go beyond communities of shared interest… The Internet has become indispensable, but whether it can create a real sense of debate… is another question altogether.” (Schaer; 2007)

In exploring the references of this essay, it is apparent that Haraway’s theories of the cyborg have maintained their relevance and even exceeded their original readings; as our community becomes progressively more reliant on technologies and the invention of newer, faster and more efficient methods of mechanising daily life, the “Manifesto for Cyborgs” begins to look more prophetic than speculative. As a society, we have collectively taken the ideas of a cyborg culture to new levels as technology continues to evolve and impose itself on our culture, leading one to rely more heavily on it as the ‘technological age’ continues, even to the extent of a progressive reliance on blogged opinions to influence our own perceptions of political climate, which is an area of most fundamental social discourse, being an indefinite and under no circumstances a static state, as explored by Drezner and Farrell (“The Power and Politics of Blogs,” 2004).

However, if cyborgs are the point of conjunction between imagination and material reality, (Haraway; 1991) how can one regulate this possible intrusion of the imagination as it is expressed in blogs and the sphere of virtual reality? If one cannot distinguish the ‘false’ from ‘real life’, then surely this would result in a social and cultural deflation, though initiated, presumably, in good will and with the intent of exploring new technology and it’s devices. If, as Haraway asserts, “the cyborg is resolutely committed to partiality, irony, intimacy and perversity,” (1991) then one cannot help but wonder what might happen should these ironies distort within the impersonal void of the cyber world. 

Notes:

  • § Haraway: “A Manifesto for Cyborgs…” 1991. In this manifesto, Haraway seeks to define the Cyborg and also puts forward the theory that not only are humans becoming like cyborgs, but that we are actually part cyborgs already due to the prevailing intake of how technology increasingly influences our lives, and the readiness with which we have come to accept it as second nature, for example in a contemporary sense I am using a Word Processing program to ‘write’ an essay, rather than using the traditional method of writing words by hand, and this method of communication has become second nature, has become ‘normal’ to me.

 

¨For more information about ‘Second Life’, please see my additional informative essay (below) exploring this program in further detail, or go to http://www.secondlife.com

References:

 

PART 2


“Second Life”: An Informative Exploration.

(Note: this information piece although written to further inform the Marker, is not a part of the above essay.)

Although my essay was not primarily based on the phenomenon of ‘Second Life’, I found that it raised for me many parallels not only with Haraway’s theory of the cyborg, and that we have become a cyborg culture, but also with Arendt’s theories of alienation –has society become so ‘lonely’ although over crowded, as we have so little time to interact with each other in our ‘real’ lives, that we are forced to retreat into a whole other ‘virtual world’ when we get home, so that we can allow ourselves to live another life we wish we had but know we will never achieve? The following information explains what Second Life is in more detail, and expands on how it is being used in particular by academics and businesses for further financial gain –a true world of cyborg…

According to its tag line, Second Life is a “3D online digital world imagined, created and owned by its residents.’ It is a complete other continent found in a virtual cyber reality, in which people can recreate themselves a new appearance, personality and lifestyle for a preliminarily free membership, or by purchasing a premium membership for $9.95/month (US$).

The advantage of paying for a premium membership is that as an online ‘person’ you can purchase and develop on your own virtual plots of land –the availability of land is infinite, due to the infinite nature of virtual reality. With the free account, users are not allowed to ‘own’ land. Land can be rented or bought for various amounts of money, as well as private islands for the wealthy. These purchases are bought through the ‘Linden Dollar,’ which is the Second Life currency.

This currency already has a recognised exchange rate with the online secure payment method ‘Paypal’ which is used by Ebay users, for example, to pay for purchases using credit cards. The Linden Dollar is also recognised with an exchange rate by some American banks. It is important to note that although paying with a virtual currency, the money really does come out of your ‘real life’ bank accounts! However, this also means that one can invest, and sell products and services through Second Life, which gives one the opportunity to make real money through a virtual stock market…

Second Life has millions of members, including academics and businessmen, some of whom even use their ‘avatar’ presence (one’s online personality) to be able to conduct ‘business meetings’ with their colleagues in other countries, which many find preferable to video conferencing or cross-audio conferencing, as they have a greater sense of ‘being in the same room’ and less far away from the people they seek to interact with –in utilising Second Life in this manner, they are making use of a virtual reality in order to make their actual world seem smaller, and so feel closer to others.

If this was an opinion piece, I would definitely wish to ask: how can the phenomenon of Second Life be a good thing when it is encouraging us so far into the cyborg that we are constructing full online lives, masquerading as the person we wish desperately to be? Should we not be encouraged to accept out own selves and our own reality, and to make more communicative efforts to meet real people, flesh people who don’t look like cartoon characters? However, on the other side of the coin, surely the advent of Second Life must be a blessing for those who cannot interact with others on a personal level through psychological or phobic issues, and especially for those suffering from any number of severe disabilities which would render them house bound or bed ridden –Second Life gives them an opportunity to explore the world, even if it’s not the world the rest of us inhabit. With a huge increase in online or virtual reality methods of education, which could certainly benefit those who cannot for whatever reasons, attend conventional means of educative institutions, it would not be that surprising if we saw a Second Life University crop up in the virtual world in the near future.

References:

http://www.secondlife.com

Arendt, Hannah: “The Human Condition.”

Haraway, Donna: “A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s.”

Schaer, Cathrin: “A Life Less Ordinary.”

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(March 2007, Catherine Lucas)

“How far are Political Blogs Viewed in Terms of Credibility by the Blogging Community?”

(A literature review)

Internet ‘blogging’ is a cultural phenomenon that has swept cyberspace within the past few years as a means of communication, propaganda, and also a method for offloading personal emotions into the anonymity of the Internet. Blogging is defined as writing in or updating a ‘web log’, an online journal where people can post diary-like entries about their personal life experiences, emotions or comment on the world around them.

Recent essays concerning the topic of blogging have taken a more serious political outlook, as influential MPs such as Tony Blair (UK Prime Minister) and David Cameron (UK Conservative Party Leader) keep regular blogs on their websites which could act as powerful political propaganda, whilst other essays address the question of how influential the blogosphere is on public opinion and the mass media in general. 

Social analysts Thomas Johnson and Barbara Kaye conducted a 2004 online survey to try to determine how credible blog users viewed the information they gleaned from blogs, in relation to the credibility they attributed to traditional media sources. It is important to note that blogs can be written by anyone with access to the Internet, and opinions, and in particular political opinions, may not come from an authority on the subject under discussion. Whereas traditional media is governed by the importance of politically correct journalism, or ‘fair view’ journalism, most bloggers put an emphasis on the point of not hiding their biases, but acknowledging and embracing them. Though the findings of Johnson and Kaye’s survey, they speculated that a sense of honesty purveyed through blogs was seen as an imperative component to their success with readers who wished to explore and comment on real opinions rather than edited views of social events.

In a study of 3,659 people, “almost three-quarters (73.6%) of Weblog readers view Weblogs as moderately to very credible and only 3.5% consider them ‘not at all’ or ‘not very credible’.” This does not mean that this notion of credibility is defined as accurate political information. The survey found that blog users are aware that most bloggers convey a biased outlook and that this may not present an accurate political outlook; however the information provided is often in-depth and well-studied, which leads to sensible argument –psychologically, the majority of blog readers are able to resist succumbing to political propaganda projected through biased opinions raised in blogs. It has, however, been acknowledged that the blogs of actual professional journalists rather than ‘armchair-observers’ are more likely to present credible political insight, which is a point observed by several of the essays researched on this topic.

There is however, from a psychoanalytical viewpoint, the problem of the impact of the ego: the blog reader may tell himself that the preferred information source he chooses must be the most credible for the simple reason that he finds it preferable to the other sources available: this is an important factor which is barely touched upon by Johnson and Kaye’s survey. A social analysis of the place of political blogs in relation to traditional media, and the socio-political theories arising from research by Daniel Drezner and Henry Farrell in their essay, “The Power and Politics of Blogs” (2004) cites Internet ‘skewing’ as an important factor in the spotlighting of prominent political blogs –due to the manner in which Internet search engines such as ‘Google’ are geared, the most popular webpages will always appear at the forefront of a search, and therefore those blogs which begin to rise in popularity will maintain this popularity as they will always appear at the top of the viewing list, in a more prominent position for readership than those further down the list. This could have the impact that the most credible blogs are among those that actually receive fewer readerships, and also segregate one set of ideals, undermining the ‘voice’ of alternative beliefs. We can see through this an influence of power laws as they appear in live society, crossing into Internet communities.

According to Drezner and Farrell, “economic sociologists have developed a variety of tools to study the social and economic” consequences of blogs, as they deliver not only some political insight, but through this an unedited social commentary of up to the minute views on our global cultures. Socially, this running commentary on life across the world, uninhibited as we are in ‘real world time’ by time and location communication barriers, can provide a fuller spectrum of social and cultural ideas, and more specifically, political opinion, addressed personally and with bias, rather than ‘filtered’ for the mainstream.

The influence of political blogs can also be measured on the media, as newspapers have begun creating blogs for the online versions of their papers, as a media tool allowing faster political and social commentary, with several political journalists writing daily or weekly blogs.

Drezner and Farrell personally “predict that as blogs become a more established feature on the political landscape, politicians and other interested parties will become more adept at responding to them, and, where they believe it necessary, co-opting them …we expect [blogs] …to become more directly integrated into ‘politics as usual’.” 

 This view is one articulated by all the articles researched here, with all commentators citing the events of 9/11 in particular as a turning point in blogging history; the benchmark of political blogging. Kathy Gill elaborates in her exploration of how to ‘measure the influence’ of blogs, that blogs have most importantly allowed people across the world to have their own political voice, a social analysis of which can bring the possible conclusion that although we exist in a society ultimately ‘ruled’ by dominant powers of government and censorship, the phenomenon of blogging has allowed us as social ‘subjects’ to create our own powers and manipulate political media.

            Gill concludes: “blogging and blogging technologies are now mainstream, evidence of the technology’s influence on traditional media …[and] has also affected political campaigns.”

Readings chosen for further exploration:

Drezner, Daniel W. Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Chicago; Farrell, Henry. Assistant Professor of Political Science, George Washington University. USA. July 2004 “The Power and Politics of Blogs.” – http://www.utsc.utoronto.ca/~farrell/blogpaperfinal.pdf (Cited 26 times in related articles)

Gill, Kathy E. Department of Communication, University of Washington, USA. 2004. “How Can We Measure the Influence of the Blogosphere?” http://faculty.washington.edu/kegill/pub/www2004_blogosphere_gill.pdf (Cited 15 times in related articles)

Johnson, Thomas J. Professor, School of Journalism, Southern Illinois University; Kaye, Barbara K. Professor, School of Journalism and Electronic Media, University of Tennessee-Knoxville. USA. 2004 “Wag the Blog: How Reliance on Traditional Media and the Internet Influence Credibility Perceptions of Weblogs among Blog Users.” http://www.blogresearch.com/articles/JOHNSON_&_KAYE_2004.pdf  (Cited 7 times in related articles)

Readings discarded from further exploration:

Jacobs, Joanne. Queensland University of Technology; Williams, Jeremy B. Universitas 21 Global. Australia, 2004. Featured in: “Australasian Journal of Educational Technology.” 2004. “Exploring the Use of Blogs as Learning Spaces in the Higher Education Sector.” – http://www.jeremybwilliams.net/AJETpaper.pdf

Kahn, Richard; Kellner, Douglas. “Internet Subcultures and Oppositional Politics.” – http://www.richardkhan.org/writings/tep/internetsubculturesoppositionalpolitics.pdf (Unsuitable due to ambiguous origin and lack of professional acclaim.)

Miller, Carolyn R; Shepard, Dawn. North Carolina State University, USA. (Undated) “Blogging as a Social Action: A Genre Analysis of the Weblog.” http://blog.lib.umn.edu/blogosphere/blogging_as_a_social_action_a_genre_analysis_of_the_weblog.html (Cited 13 times in related articles)

Neumann, Julie. University of Texas, USA. 2006. “The Impact of the Internet on Journalism: An Examination of Blogging, Citizen Journalism, and a Dot.Com Solution for the Online Edition.” – http://journalism.utexas.edu/onlinejournalism/2006/papers/Julie.pdf  (Unsuitable due to personal opinions and lack of professional acclaim.)

“Why we Blog.” (Information misplaced)

Additional Blogging Sites of Interest:

Article: “Blair May Blog the Next Election.” –The Guardian (UK): 6th February 2004 – http://politics.guardian.co.uk/labour/story/0,9061,1142593,00.html

David Cameron’s Blog http://www.webcameron.org.uk/

Glenn Reynolds (Law Professor, University of Tennessee) –cited in researched articles as the ‘world’s most visited blog’ – http://www.instapundit.com/ 

Tony Blair’s Campaign Diary: “Labour: the future for Britain.” http://www.labour.org.uk/tonyblair

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